The 2012 election saw breakthrough success for openly gay candidates across the country, including Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, the first to be elected to the senate. In June, the Supreme Court will rule on two cases that could change the status of gay marriage at the federal and state levels. And yet, not long ago, the students of Tufts Gay Community felt they needed to hide their identities in the group’s yearbook photo.
Today Tufts is nationally recognized as among the best schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. On April 6, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Center at Tufts will celebrate its 20th anniversary, the remarkable progress made by gender and sexual minorities, and the active citizens whose hard work and dedication made it possible both nationally and on-campus.
Originally known as the LGB Resource Center, it opened in the fall of 1992, in the basement of Lewis Hall. The center built on earlier efforts by the student group Tufts Gay Community. Formed in 1972, TGC ran a drop-in center in Curtis Hall for students in need of support. The next year the group added the word Lesbian to their name – it had previously been considered too radical – becoming the TLGC.
In the wake of the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the loss of esteemed French Professor Frederick Shepler in 1984, the focus of student activism began to shift.
“The atmosphere on campus began to change with the need to create awareness on an administrative level,” said Elena Mead, A08, who worked on the Tufts Queer History Project as a Summer Scholar. “Students in the early ‘90s were more focused on the fight for resources, especially the establishment of an LGB Resource Center and a coordinator. New events, such as the establishment of the national coming out day celebration in 1991 began to define a new face for the Tufts queer community.”
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tufts was becoming a leader of a fast-growing movement on campuses nationally. In April 1988 the student senate approved funding for a staff coordinator. The same year, the TLGC added a b for bisexuality, becoming the TLGBC.
In the fall of 1989, History Professor Howard Solomon began teaching “Gay and Lesbian History,” the first permanent university course on the subject. Tufts celebrated its first National Coming Out Day on October 11, 1991, just one year after the creation of the event. Less than a month after that, a rally for gay rights on-campus brought out hundreds of students, signaling the enormous shift in attitudes that had taken place. The Center opened the following fall.
“A lot changed during the rest of the ‘90s,” said Emily Mears, staff assistant at the Center. “In the spring of 1997, the TLGBC added Transgender to their name, to better recognize transgender rights and transgender students on campus. They became the TTLGBC, ‘TT’ for short. That fall, Judith Brown came on as the first full-time director of the Center. And then in 1998, the Community Union signed a national petition for same-sex marriage, the first of the annual Safe Colleges Conferences was hosted on-campus, and Rainbow House was established.”
Today the LGBT Center at Tufts makes all visitors feel at home in its bright, open space in Bolles House. A vital part of the Office of Intercultural & Social Identities Programs and the “Group of Six” - the Africana, Asian American, International, Latino, and Women’s Centers – the staff and students build allies and connections across the campus.
The center serves as an information hub, hosting a number of discussion groups, and the student organizations Team Q and Queer Peers, which provide different kinds of education, outreach, and support to the campus. Every year they organize “Gaypril” as a month of focused events, anchored this year by the 20th anniversary.
“We have found multiple ways to celebrate our history at this event,” said Tom Bourdon, director of the Center. ”That includes performances, video, and speakers, including Tufts alumni State Representative Carl Sciortino, A00. In addition to the formal program, there will be food, music, raffles, dancing…it’s going to be a huge party which individuals from all corners of the campus community are invited to take part it!”
The LGBT Center’s 20th Anniversary Celebration takes place on April 6th from 7 p.m. to midnight at the Campus Center Commons & Hotung. For tickets, visit tuftstickets.com.